Government Pork: A Voter's Guide

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Bob Elsdale / Corbis

2009 Congressional Pig Book Summary
Citizens Against Government Waste
58 pages

The Gist:

Since 1991, the Citizens Against Government Waste, a non-partisan, non-profit group in Washington D.C., has been publishing an annual list of pork-barrel projects in an effort to shame politicians into curbing their earmark requests. It hasn't worked. This year's Pig Book outlines $19.6 billion in pork barrel projects that will fund more than 10,000 projects in the 2009 fiscal year. (The dollar amount is 14% higher than the previous year, although the raw number of projects dropped 12.5%.) The thing about earmarks is that they make a politician popular at home, but unpopular on the national stage. While some politicians prefer to keep their overspending quiet, others are proud of their ability to "bring home the bacon." Still, it's safe to say that no one enjoys being skewered in a report with the tagline, "The Book Washington Doesn't Want You to Read."

Projects that make it into CAGW's Pig Book must fulfill one or more of the following criteria:

• Requested only by the House or Senate
• Not specifically authorized by a piece of legislation
• Not competitively awarded based on a bidding process
• Not requested by the President
• Greatly exceed the President's budget request or the previous year's funding
• Not the subject of congressional hearings
• Serves only a local need or special interest

(See the Top 10 Outrageous Earmarks of 2008)

The Highlight Reel:

1. On a $700,000 earmark requested by Kentucky Senator Mitch McConnell: " complete a monitoring system that will collect real-time weather observations through a statewide grid of stations in Kentucky. Apparently the Weather Channel is not sufficient."

2. On a $200,000 request by California Rep. Howard Berman: "...for the Providence Holy Cross Foundation tattoo removal violence prevention program in Mission Hills...It is now time for a pork removal program."

3. On $951,500 requested by Michigan's two senators and one congresswoman: "...for downtown Detroit energy efficient street lighting. That's the least of the city's problems." (See the photo essay, "The Remains of Detroit)

4. On a $300,000 request from California Rep. Jerry Lewis: "...for the Joshua Tree National Park Visitor Center. Perhaps next year, if the park and Rep. Lewis still haven't found all the money they're looking for, they could ask Bono and U-2 for help instead of the taxpayers."

The Lowdown:

The Citizens Against Government Waste injects sarcasm and condescension into the serious issue of earmarks hoping to prod politicians and arouse popular anger over untoward spending. CAGW argues that lawmakers circumvent the budget allocation process by sneaking funding for hometown projects into large appropriations bills. This is not entirely untrue, but without investigating the merits of each project — and instead condemning them all in bulk — it's a little hard to take the Pig Book at face value. Still, the book and CAGW's online database are good resources for constituents who want to find out which projects in their communities got the attention of their representatives in Washington.

The Verdict: Skim

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